And because so many of these films from the Japanese masters are in the Criterion Collection, a couple of summers ago I watched a whole bunch of them: Ozu's Late Spring, Naruse Mikio's When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, Mizoguchi Kenji's Sansho the Bailiff and Ugetsu, Ichikawa Kon's Fires on the Plain and The Burmese Harp, Teshigahara Hiroshi's Woman in the Dunes. All in rapid succession. Ichikawa was definitely my favorite at the time. I loved his camera-work and his anti-war politics, especially.
But in the last two weeks I finally saw Early Summer and Tokyo Story, two Ozu movies from the same period. And I have fallen in love again.
Tokyo Story recalls Leo McCarey's Make Way for Tomorrow or Randolph Edmonds' play Old Man Pete - in which the now-adult children of an old married couple send for their parents to visit but once they're there are annoyed that they need to disrupt the usual way of living their lives. In Tokyo Story, the rural parents also need to navigate the city of Tokyo, its speed and industry and impersonality. Ozu's camera doesn't move very much. These are character and cultural studies, and he expects us to pay close attention and to think about what we are seeing.
I liked Early Summer even better. In fact, Early Summer is basically a perfect movie. In this film, Noriko, a woman in her late twenties who has been focused on her career, is being pestered by her relatives into marrying. But she chooses a husband for herself instead and makes her own path in life. This film spends lots of time with Noriko and her friends, some married and some single, discussing the difficulties of dealing with a husband or being lonely. This is all fun and funny and slightly catty, but the film is also fundamentally about getting older and figuring out what has been chosen for us and how we might choose differently.
Another thing that I really loved about both of these films is the way that the war is constantly present in these characters' lives. In both, there is a missing young man, a brother or husband who has died in World War II. Neither film makes this into a central concern for the characters, but it is always there. One feels this absence palpably. I love this aspect of the movies.
And both of these films have so many great performers. My favorites in both were Miyake Kuniko (so understated and beautiful, especially in Early Summer) and Takahashi Toyo (hilarious in both). But honestly, there are so many beautiful performances in these movies.
In any case I am excited to see more. Ozu was fairly prolific, so I expect there are a lot of superb films out there for me to watch.